The other week, I wrote about the hesitancy to return to office.
The fair question to ask is: So… now what do we do about it now?
A simple answer is: We stay remote, and people come into the office as they see fit.
A simple answer is: We stay fully remote, and no longer need any office space.
A simple answer is: We were fully remote, because the pandemic forced us to be, now we are back to being fully in office.
A more complex answer is: We are hybrid. Sometimes in the office… sometimes not.
It’s a more complex answer, because every business (every department… every human) has a different definition of what “hybrid” really means.
I (often) joke that hybrid means: “I don’t know.”
People like to think that because of the pandemic, office work (as we have known it to date) has changed.
Throughout my years of professional work (which is now traipsing into well over 30 years), I have seen and done it all:
- I have worked from home.
- I have worked from an office.
- I have worked remotely.
- I have worked as a solopreneur.
- I have worked for non-profits.
- I have worked for companies.
- I have worked for startups.
- I have been an entrepreneur.
- I have worked with multiple offices, in multiple timezones across multiple cultures.
They all have benefits. They all have flaws. There is no perfect answer.
There is no way to get every organization within every industry aligned.
But… we can think about work in a different way.
Here are some jams on how to get there:
- Your job isn’t just the time you spend working. Your salary includes everything from the commute, to the price of parking, to home internet access, to buying a better webcam and audio setup at home to stay better connected, and beyond. All of these factors should play into whether or not this is the company for you. Complaining that the commute to an office is now a pain for you because of traffic or public transport is the pain you accepted when you took the job in the first place (even if you moved further away from the office during the pandemic). This might sting, but it’s actually quite liberating once you accept everything it takes to get your job done as a part of your salary.
- Your commute is an opportunity. The commute (and beyond) are “spaces” for you to grow, catch up and connect (if you so choose). Never forget this. Personal development is your own business… not your employer’s (granted, it is a huge bonus when the employer does care about it). Commutes are amazing “third spaces” to learn about your industry, listen to a podcast, network with peers, etc…
- Leaders and managers are great coaches. At least they should be. If you’re a leader and manager, but you’re not a great coach… you are doomed in this new work environment. Employees should be fighting to be on your team (or work at your company). This article from the Harvard Business Review says it way better than I can: Successful Leaders Are Great Coaches. In short, why would anybody show up to be told what to do, in a world where everybody will show up because of how much better you make them… and the team?
- Make coming into the office the ultimate work experience. If coming to the office isn’t a better work experience than staying home… why have the office? The usual diatribe is that people should come to the office for meetings and to collaborate. Meetings and ways to collaborate have been challenged long before Covid hit. Most meetings could have been an email, and most people were never taught how to truly collaborate in an additive way. If leaders want their teams back in the office, focus on creating an experience worth coming in for. Hint: If the sole purpose for coming into the office is that managers can keep an eye on employees, then all is lost. Another hint: Free lunches and parking will only work on a small segment of your team… and only for a small period of time. If you’re not making your office the ultimate work experience, then maybe you don’t need an office?
- What makes for a great office experience? What can make that experience better beyond improving how meetings work and how the team collaborates? Think about areas like professional development (what can we do in our office space that makes a person better… what tools, platforms and experiences can we give them to make them not want to stay at home?). Think about areas like mentoring (what can we do to help everyone connect and grow?). Think about great conversations (We’ve all experienced a coffee over Zoom… verses meeting someone in person… I think we all know which experiences stick with us longer and have more impact). Lastly, the culture. We, the humans, go places because of culture. Make the office a living and breathing embodiment of your culture, and watch people flock to it.
- Focus less on managers and focus much more on your people. Every argument over “back to office” feels like a manager versus employees type of conversation. Make it about the people… all of the people… in the organization. This isn’t about management and control, and it’s not about employees and productivity. It’s about the entire team and how a central space can add to that.
- If my office is just where I do my job, how can leaders make it something more? How can I be a part of something bigger than myself? What kind of legacy will that create? What kind of legacy do I want to be a part of? If I am putting in these hours with you (and your team) at an office, how big of an impact is my work having on this greater outcome? If I can see it, feel it, smell it and taste it… I will be excited to show up for it.
- Social Media can be a teacher. Social media has trained the masses for instant gratification and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). If you want people to physically show up in your office, is there a way to replicate this instant gratification and fear of missing out? I have not fully flushed out my thinking on this, but replicating that dopamine drop may be a key in cracking the code of getting people back into the office, if that’s your jam.
The office of the future doesn’t have to be the office from before the pandemic. That’s a choice… and it may no longer be the wise one.
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